COVID-19 Economic Benefits How-To Guide

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woman wwearing mask at desk in a pensive mediation state

As more Americans with and without disabilities are caught up in the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are wondering where to find answers to life-or-death questions.

What do I do if I’m a person with a disability and lost my job because of COVID-19?

You are not alone. A monthly report published by the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD), shows that nearly one million working-age people with disabilities lost their jobs.

That represents a 20 percent reduction of the number of workers with disabilities in our nation’s economy. There is a significant question whether those jobs will ever come back.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) website has a comprehensive run-down on what you as an individual with or without disabilities needs to know about accessing unemployment benefits if you are an eligible worker.

Unemployment insurance (UI) is a joint state-federal program that specifically helps workers who have lost their jobs. With more than 22 million workers now out of their jobs, UI is more important than ever before.

How do I know if I am eligible?

Each state has its own guideline around who does or does not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. Generally speaking, if:

  • You lost your job through no fault of your own or you were separated due to a lack of available work.
  • You also meet specific work and wage requirements.

Then you should qualify for unemployment benefits. However, beyond those basic guidelines, each state has different rules in terms of wages earned and time worked. To find out what your state requirements and guidelines are, visit careeronestop.org.

FYI: It generally takes two to three weeks after you file your claim to receive your first benefit check.

What about COVID-19 specific unemployment resources?

In response to the pandemic, DOL issued new guidance to address COVID-19 in the workplace and different scenarios involving workers at risk of losing their jobs because of the virus. You can read that guidance online at dol.gov.

Who can I talk to for more details?

The DOL’s toll-free call center can assist workers and employers with questions about job loss, layoffs, business closures, unemployment benefits and job training: 1-877-US-2JOBS (TTY: 1-877-889-5627).

What other resources does DOL offer?

DOL maintains a dedicated page for job seekers and unemployed workers looking to access the workforce system. That page includes specific information about finding new job training opportunities as well as disability-specific resources.

What if I’m on SSI or SSDI, but I lost my part-time job? Can I claim unemployment?

The answer really depends on whether you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

For people receiving SSDI, unemployment income is counted as unearned income and DOES NOT count towards the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit. This means that people who receive SSDI, but had been working part-time, can claim unemployment without worrying about the usual income limit.

SSI is different from SSDI, but unemployment income also counts as unearned income for SSI. However, SSI benefits may be offset by the amount of unemployment received. SSI has a strict $2,000 asset limit. If SSI recipients receive benefits that would push them over the asset limits, they should consider spending those funds right away to purchase needed supplies.

If a person with a disability had been working but lost their job because of COVID-19, they will need to apply for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

The Arc has a great website with lots of details on navigating unemployment as a person with a disability at the arc.org.

What about accessing food benefits?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest federal nutrition assistance program. SNAP provides benefits to eligible low-income individuals and families via an Electronic Benefits Transfer card. This card can be used like a debit card to purchase eligible food in authorized retail food stores. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs the SNAP program and maintains a great website about SNAP eligibility at fns.usda.gov.

While SNAP is a federal program, like most benefits, it is run by state agencies. To find out about your home state’s rules on SNAP benefits, visit fns.usda.gov/snap.

Before the pandemic, 11 million people with disabilities depended on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) nutrition benefits to put food on the table. That number has increased significantly as people with and without disabilities have lost their jobs and hungry children have lost food access with school closures. In response, more states are seeking a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow SNAP recipients to use their benefits for online grocery deliveries.

Learn more at:

RespectAbility.org.

What about food benefits for women and children?

The USDA also runs the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to help low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five at fns.usda.gov.wic.

Like most benefit programs, WIC has strict eligibility requirements that specifically limit the pool of people who can make use of these resources. To determine your eligibility for WIC, visit:fns.usda.gov/wic/wic-eligibility.

How do I order food online for delivery?

To limit their risk of exposure to the virus, many people with and without disabilities have opted to switch entirely to online grocery deliveries. Unfortunately for many people with disabilities, this is an inaccessible or unavailable option.

Popular options for online grocery deliveries include Instacart, Amazon and Walmart. In 35 states, people with disabilities now can or will soon be able use their SNAP benefits for online grocery deliveries. However, there are still states that have taken no action to help millions of people with disabilities put food on the table. RespectAbility and other disability organizations such as the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) are actively working to solve this and other critical, COVID related economic challenges.

What about delivery fees?

Unfortunately, even if you are in a state that has joined the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot, you will need to cover the cost of delivery fees.

What federal agencies or programs are providing information to help people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Administration for Community Living (ACL) has been leading disability related efforts to respond to COVID-19. They have a great website that has information for aging and disability programs, as well as videos in American Sign Language (ASL) and Spanish language materials.

ACL has distributed information to its grantees in every state about preventing exposure to the virus, tips for dealing with social isolation, technology resources, as well as guidance for programs that are directly helping people with disabilities deal with COVID-19.

Visit their extensive website with resources and information at acl.gov.

What about Veterans with Disabilities?

Like ACL and DOL, the Department of Veterans affairs has created an extensive website to cover VA specific issues in the COVID-19 pandemic. You can use the website to read the latest about COVID-19, make appointments or access other benefits/services: va.gov.

If you are not yet connected to a Veterans Service Organization (VSO), why not connect with one now via the internet? For example, you could connect with Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) pva.org/find-support, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) dav.org or Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) iava.org.

What do I do if I am at-risk of COVID-19 and have roommates or live in a group home and people are not practicing social distancing or taking precautions?

This is a serious matter and your safety needs to come first. Consider preparing a script of what you want to say before saying it. Remember to be respectful of everyone’s emotional needs but firm about your own health and safety.

Have a conversation with your roommate about documenting when and if people are coming. That way you can tell public health authorities if either of you comes down sick.

This great article from TODAY has more ideas on how to handle this delicate issue: today.com.

For more resources and updates from RespectAbility about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the one-in-five people who live with a disability, please visit: respectability.org.

Can You Hire a Deaf Employee When the Job Requires Phone Work?

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Two deaf individuals talking through sign language

By AnnMarie Killian

Imagine this: You are hiring for a job that requires phone work…but the person sitting in front of you is deaf/hard of hearing.

You may be wonder, can a person who is deaf/hard of hearing use the phone successfully?

The answer is yes.

And consider this: Companies and corporations are actively seeking out people with differences. Diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords—they’re real-life practices that today’s companies are required to implement. Diverse teams and inclusive environments produce an organizational culture that is beneficial to the bottom line.

Yet, at first glance, managers and human resources personnel may be reluctant to consider a deaf/hard of hearing person for a job because of presumed limitations.

They may be wondering:

  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how can they manage parts of the job that require audio communication?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how will they communicate?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, can they really do the job?

And…

  • If the job requires phone work, can a deaf/hard of hearing person really handle that aspect of the job?

The reluctance from employers to consider deaf/hard of hearing for jobs that involve phone work often comes from fear of the unknown. If you’ve never met a deaf/hard of hearing person doing the work that you’re hiring for, you might hesitate or even refuse to consider hiring that person.

Technological advances have leveled the playing field in many professions. In many cases, deaf and hard of hearing people bring a different perspective to a job that a person with hearing in the normal range may not have.

You’ll find deaf and hard of hearing people in all kinds of jobs, even those that are considered “impossible” for a deaf/hard of hearing person to be employed in. Surgeons. Lawyers. Auto shop managers. Airplane mechanics. Pharmacists. Audiologists. Bartenders. Musicians. Restaurant servers. Firefighters. NASA launch team specialists.

Even at call centers—which require being on the phone all hours of the job!

For example, Dale McCord works as a Purchase Card Specialist and his job requires frequent phone contact with vendors. “In the past, I occasionally came across managers who were reluctant to hire me for jobs because of perceived ‘limitations,’” Dale explains. “I’m a loyal and hard-working person and today’s technology allows me to do my job very well.”

Dale also has some advice for those who hire: “When you hire a person with a disability, don’t doubt their ability to do the job—because they will often do the job twice as well.”

Today’s technology has made telephone communication accessible in a variety of ways, including captioned phones and videophones. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals can make and receive calls via Video Relay Services such as ZVRS and Purple Video Relay Services.

By utilizing a videophone, a deaf/hard of hearing person is capable of working via phone. The person on the other end of the line does not necessarily know the conversation is woven with two languages, facilitated by a qualified, highly-skilled interpreter.

Here are some frequently asked questions about using Video Relay Services:

How does a deaf/hard of hearing person use a phone with a Video Relay System?

Both ZVRS and Purple provide equipment and software that routes a phone call through a video relay system.  The deaf/hard of hearing individual accesses a phone conversation by watching a sign language interpreter on a video screen. The deaf/hard of hearing individual can respond via sign language (the interpreter will voice a translation) or by using their own voice. The conversation flows back and forth between a deaf/hard of hearing individual and a hearing person with an interpreter translating the conversation seamlessly.

Can a deaf/hard of hearing person answer an inbound call?

Yes, calls can be routed through a phone number assigned to a videophone.  A visual alert system will notify the deaf/hard of hearing person that a call is coming through. With the press of a button, the call can be answered.

Our network is extremely secure–will a videophone work with our network?

ZVRS and Purple can provide equipment that is encrypted and works with firewalls. The systems are ADA compliant and integrated within your network. Our teams work directly with network system managers to ensure secure connections.

Where can I find more information about phone solutions for potential deaf/hard of hearing employees?

Click here to access Purple Business Solutions

Click here to access Enterprise Solutions/ZVRS

Click here to access ZVRS

A passionate and people-centric leader, AnnMarie is vice president of diversity and inclusion for Purple Communications. She brings over 25 plus years of diverse experience in telecommunications, retail and fitness. As a Deaf individual, she is intimately familiar with the challenges of engagement and inclusion, which has influenced her professional aspirations. Recently, AnnMarie served as the vice president of operations responsible for leading key deliverables for increasing profitability, growing revenue and maximizing operational efficiencies.

Digital Accessibility: Why It’s More Vital Than Ever

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Headshot of Elizabeth Stephen

By Elizabeth Stephen, VP of Customer Engagement at Striata, The Americas

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 achieved what years of lobbying and education has not—convincing organizations of the importance of making sure digital assets, like websites, emails and mobile apps, are easy to use and simple to navigate.

With the sudden upswing in digital demand and the almost overnight disappearance of physical interactions, it’s become clear how someone who cannot leave their home is forced to rely on digital channels, and how frustrating it is for them if those digital channels are not optimized for accessibility. This is a regular experience for people living with disabilities and COVID-19 has forced people to have empathy for those with the need for digital access.

Making online content more accessible means ensuring that all people can read and understand it—taking into account any disabilities they may have or assistive devices they could be using to access it. This includes those with disabilities such as impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, deafness or impaired hearing. In fact, stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 61-million (or 1 in 4) adults in the US have some form of disability.

The pandemic has accelerated the rate of digital transformation and with it, the need for digital accessibility. People with disabilities, who previously may have relied on physical interactions (when shopping, banking etc.), are now also being forced to interact via digital channels instead. It is therefore imperative that organizations consider this segment. They can start by assessing the accessibility level of all their digital content and changing the copy as well as layout/design where necessary. Taking these steps will not only ensure that digital content can be consumed and understood by all, but that it also complies with accessibility laws.

Some common accessibility standards include ensuring websites and emails are easily navigable on a mobile device or via keyboard only and creating PDF documents that can be read by screen readers by avoiding text with a poor color contrast.

Before the pandemic hit, while physical interactions were still acceptable and in-store visits more common, email was already a popular communication channel for many consumers and businesses alike. Now, with the recent, sudden, and unprecedented restrictions of movement imposed by governments across the globe, companies have been forced to adjust their communication or risk losing touch with customers.

It is not surprising that a large number of companies turned to email as the channel of choice to reach out to customers with information about their business continuity plans.

The result was a deluge of emails from brands wanting to make contact with customers and reassure them that new, digital ways of applying, buying and transacting would return things to business as usual. But if customers aren’t able to access those emails in spite of their disabilities, there can be no “business as usual.” Fortunately, a report from Level Access shows that 67 percent of US-based businesses felt compelled to implement inclusion to be truly inclusive of persons with disabilities.

Meanwhile, some 45 percent implemented a standard, organizational-wide approach to accessibility. They could do far worse than to start with email.
The pandemic has emphasized the undeniable value of these communications, and as the value of email is a channel for everyone, it makes sense for organizations to put energy into making email accessibility a key focus in their digital accessibility strategy.

Elizabeth Stephen is the VP of Customer Engagement for the Americas, overseeing all commercial business and channel management in North and South America. For the past decade, Liz has managed teams of sales groups both nationally and internationally. She has a true passion for helping customers identify their needs and consulting with them to help fill those needs. Since joining Striata, Liz has taken a keen interest in Customer Communications Management (CCM) and helping clients utilize digital communications to meet their CX goals.

Cultivating a ‘Deliberately Diverse’ Approach in Accounting & Advisory Fields

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A woamn working at a desk with a computer and a calculator

By Joanne Cleaver

Grant Thornton, the northern Virginia office of international accounting and advisory firm, had a problem.

The office is located in the Washington, D.C. metro, one of the most racially diverse areas in America, with an especially strong representation of Black professionals.

And, many of the firm’s clients were government agencies or top-tier suppliers to government agencies—two types of organizations highly attuned to racial diversity.

Carlos Otal, head of the office and managing partner for Grant Thornton’s public sector services and solutions practice, knew that clients expected more than a reflection of their own diverse staff. They expected Grant Thornton to live up to the diversity priorities it stated in its website and pitch materials.

But how would the firm foster diverse client engagement teams when the accounting and advisory profession was, and is, overwhelmingly white and male?

By cultivating a ‘deliberately diverse’ approach to assembling teams.

Otal “cracked the code” by figuring out the key dynamics of how diverse teams deliver on the diversity promise of better ideas and greater innovation to elevate client service. Then, he aligned the process of picking teams to ensure that no demographic dominated. That shifted the group dynamic: when each individual operated in his or her own strength, free from the expectation of representing their identity, the group quickly recognized each member’s strengths and contributions. Those strengths combined in fresh ways to bring clients new ideas and solutions.

Thanks to ongoing research by the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance, accounting and advisory firms have a deep well of diversity best practices to draw on, from Grant Thornton and other leading firms. The AFWA’s reports illustrate to W/MBE’s how firms are pursuing diverse talent and suppliers.

The accounting and advisory profession lags when it comes to diversity.

Blacks are significantly under-represented in the accounting and advisory profession, at only 3 percent of employees. Hispanics comprise 6 percent of employees; Asians, 11 percent; and biracial employees, 4 percent, while Native Americans are virtually absent, according to the 2020 Accounting MOVE Project, an annual research and advocacy effort that measures and supports the advancement of women and women of color at CPA firms. It is produced by content firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., in partnership with the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance.

As accounting and advisory firms seek new avenues for growth, they are realizing that diverse talent drives innovation, and innovation is what clients want when they hire a pricey firm to guide them through new market and financial opportunities.

Otal’s lightbulb moment pivoted on changing the definition of “meritocracy.” CPA and advisory firms tend to believe that billable hours create meritocracy, in dollars and culture. But sustainable firm success is grounded in client relationship skills, business development and talent growth—characteristics that are not easily quantified and that often don’t fit into the billable hours construct.

As Otal worked with leaders in his office, the team realized early on that they needed to diversify the office’s talent pipeline from the bottom up and to change the culture at midlevel from the outside in.

And retention pivoted on changing how professionals defined success. “You can’t just say you want diversity,” Otal says. “You have to be intentional. We use metrics and data to tell you who is doing what. But then we spend a lot of time looking beyond the data. What are the impacts this person has made beyond the hours billed and the sales numbers? “

Otal realized that young professionals need to see a wider spectrum of leadership styles, backgrounds, and career paths. That’s how the office’s “bottom up” strategy intersected with its “outside in” strategy. Otal’s team sought midcareer recruits with a wider range of ethnic and personal backgrounds. The Alexandria office has now pulled ahead of national benchmarks for racial diversity.

“We’ve realized we have to be even more intentional about diversity when we have even more data. Sometimes you say, ‘It’s not if this person gets promoted. It’s when,’” says Otal. “So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go ahead and promote this person. We know we want to. When we’re intentional about diversity, it changes the dynamic. Then that changes the data,” he said, referring to employee demographics.

At Grant Thornton’s Alexandria office, greater racial and gender diversity changed the way teams collaborated and solved problems. And that showed young professionals that the firm was capitalizing on diversity—and that their own varied perspectives were essential for their career success.

This article is based on the 2019 CPA Firm Diversity Report. Find more trends and tools for working with leading accounting and advisory firms at the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance website: afwa.org/move-project/

SUNRISE MEDICAL announces three upgrades for the QUICKIE power portfolio: C-Me® expansion, the option to Tilt and Elevate and introducing the new SEDEO® LITE Seating System

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Q500 SEDEO LITE

In striving to meet the needs of more clients, Sunrise Medical is excited to introduce three upgrades to its QUICKIE power portfolio:

–C-Me – Elevate and Drive functionality on both the Q500 M and Q400 M.
–Tilt and Elevate combination – Customers no longer have to choose tilt only or elevate only.
–The SEDEO LITE Seat – One of the lightest seating systems to be introduced in North America. The Lite seat includes traditional back canes to mount JAY® and other off the shelf aftermarket backs at a fraction of the weight of other seating systems.

With C-Me, clients can achieve the independence they are looking for. Drive up to 3 MPH while elevated up to 12″ without needing to stop while transitioning. Highly popular on the Q700 M, and now also available on the Q500 M, and the Q400 M, clients will never have to compromise dependability for accessibility again. And thanks to a suspension that doesn’t lock out when you drive with C-Me, the ride is smooth and comfortable from start to finish.

The new SEDEO LITE seating system is an adjustable seat frame giving you a simple, sleek look. As one of the lightest seating systems in the market, the Q500 M equipped with SEDEO LITE seating has a starting weight of 266 lbs., making it a great solution for many hitch-mounted lifts. The traditional back canes are width-adjustable from 15” to 20” and easily fit JAY backs and most aftermarket back supports.

“We are excited to expand our popular features and options on the line of QUICKIE power wheelchairs with the addition of C-Me and SEDEO LITE on the Q500 M” said Jeff Rogers, Director of Power Product Management. “C-Me has been a highly demanded feature on other QUICKIE power wheelchair models and it only made sense to expand the feature to a smaller wheel base. With the addition of the SEDEO LITE, we have a full line of seating frame options from mild to complex clinical needs.”

Learn more about C-Me and the new SEDEO LITE seating system by visiting SunriseMedical.com.

About Sunrise Medical: A world leader in the development, design, manufacture and distribution of manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, motorized scooters and both standard and customized seating and positioning systems, Sunrise Medical manufactures products in their own facilities in the United States, Mexico, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, China, Holland, and Poland. Sunrise Medical’s key products, marketed under the QUICKIE®, Sopur, ZIPPIE®, Sterling, JAY®, WHITMYER® and SWITCH-ITTM proprietary brands, are sold through a network of homecare medical product dealers or distributors in more than 130 countries. The company is headquartered in Malsch, Germany, with North American headquarters in Fresno, Calif., and employs more than 2,200 associates worldwide.

How Kindness Changed the Life of this Child with Cerebal Palsy

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Briella riding her scooter

By Paige Long 

“Now more than ever, during these uncertain times, we need to be more kind,” said Caroline Naif.

The Michigan mother of a determined 6-year-old living with cerebral palsy (CP) wants you to understand how kindness has made a difference in her daughter’s life.

“We are all facing challenges daily and life looks a little different for each of us, but we can and we will get through this if we work together, be patient and respect one another,” she said. Caroline’s daughter, Briella, was diagnosed with CP at 21 months old. This is the most common motor disability in children, caused by abnormal development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance and posture. CP looks different in each individual, and in Briella’s case, her speech and leg mobility are affected.

“Briella was born six weeks early, weighing only 3 pounds and 11 ounces, and spent the first 24 days of her life in the NICU. By her first birthday, Briella wasn’t hitting all of her mobility milestones, and right away, we admitted her into physical and occupational therapies. Later, an MRI scan revealed Briella had Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy, caused by a lack of oxygen, either shortly before or after her birth,” said Naif.

Doctors told Caroline that her daughter may never walk or talk on her own.

At three-and-a-half, Briella had Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy, a life-changing lower spinal surgery to get rid of the spasticity and tightness in her legs to strengthen her mobility. This procedure also allows a more independent lifestyle. Briella took her first steps four months after her surgery.

“When you receive a diagnosis, you never know what to expect or how life will look down the road. Our family has gotten to where we are today by lots of research, faith, patience, inspiration and the friendships of other amazing warrior families through social media.”

Briella continues to become stronger and more independent with the physical and emotional support of Variety the Children’s Charity of Detroit – one of the international children’s charity’s 45 “tents.”

Briella, who has been a “Variety Kid” since age 2, received an adaptive bike, which she can pedal and steer by herself, rode Max the horse in the nonprofit’s equestrian riding program, and even modeled in the annual Variety SHINE Fashion show. Through Variety’s mission to simply serve Detroit-area kids, no matter the need, Briella’s never-give-up attitude has blossomed, and she took her first 100 independent steps without her walker earlier this year.

“Briella is a shining example of why Variety is committed to serving kids through programs that enable and empower mobility, confidence and independence. The support and services that Variety provides are simply life-changing, and we are proud to be a small step on Briella’s journey to walk,” said David King, President of Variety the Children’s Charity of Detroit. Briella’s story and involvement in Variety programs were recently featured in a national webcast by the clothing brand Justice.

Over the last 12 months, Briella also started talking in full sentences and began to read. Caroline is encouraged to see Briella’s communication and physical strength grow. “We are finally starting to hear her sweet voice, and it is priceless. She works so hard at school, in therapy and at home as we work toward her goals. My husband and I have seen the growth, and Briella is more centered and aware of her body, giving her less fear to tackle different movement and mobility challenges in physical therapy and daily living.”

Despite meeting challenges many kids her age will never have to consider, she continues on with determination and greets each obstacle with a smile. Briella loves to play, swim, ride her bike, go horseback riding, read books, work with arts and crafts, and attend school and physical therapy. Briella loves to play veterinarian with her stuffed animals and talks about someday being a teacher or working with animals.

“Briella has many goals to keep working towards as she grows from child to teen to adult,” said Caroline. “Ultimately, it’s getting her comfortable with daily living skills and having her involved in the process as much as possible, whether that’s helping brushing her own teeth, getting dressed or assisting with meals. We want Briella to be as comfortable and independent as possible, but at the same time, want her to be able to express her feelings and ask for help when needed.”

“Our world is starting to become more adaptive and inclusive for kids like Briella, but unfortunately, we still have a long way to go by making buildings, stores, schools, playgrounds- you name it- more adaptable and accessible for kids and adults who have mobility issues.”

Briella is a shining example of someone who has, and will continue to surpass expectations with unmatched determination.

You can follow Briella and Caroline’s journey on Facebook and Instagram at Briella + Me.

Jeanine Cook is the 2020 Winner of the Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award

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Jeanine Cook with her horse

Jeanine Cook, a principal member of technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the Scalable Architectures department at the Computer Science Research Institute, has received the 2020 Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science and Diversifying Computing.

The award was presented for her many achievements in computer science research in the areas of high-performance computing, performance characterization and modeling, hardware accelerator technologies, edge-computing, large-scale system monitoring and data analytics; her work in diversifying computer science for the disabled; and her teaching and mentorship of students while an associate professor at New Mexico State University. The award was presented by Richard Tapia at the 2020 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference.

Raised by her parents in Colorado, Cook’s father, a physics PhD., inspired his daughters in their love of computers from an early age. Her mother was a home maker whose own mother came from New Mexico while it was still part of Mexico. Jeanine chose to pursue a BS in Electrical Engineering at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. It was in her second semester at college that her life changed.

Driving home one night she fell asleep at the wheel and drove off an embankment. She broke her back and severely damaged her spinal cord. She soon realized that she had decisions to make on how to live her life. She made a critical decision to choose life, joy and positivity. She was lucky to have many friends who came to see her in the hospital and rehab facility to not only support her but to learn how to enable her to continue on her chosen path. Friends learned how to assist with her self-care, assemble and disassemble her wheelchairs so they could be transported and encouraged her constantly. The incredible outpouring of support and her very close family enabled her to continue her education.

“My friends changed my life. They stood by me and supported me when they really didn’t have to. Because they loved me and encouraged me, I was able to be happy and positive about my future,” said Cook.

Jeanine received her BS and continued with her master’s degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She decided to pursue a PhD program. While many of the East Coast Universities had very attractive programs, she realized that many of their campuses were not wheelchair accessible. She attended New Mexico State University and received her PhD in Electrical Engineering. She then joined the university as an associate professor. During her eleven-year tenure, she graduated eight PhD students and twelve Masters theses students. She was extremely successful in securing research funding, and in 2009 received the Presidential Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President George Bush and the Frank Bromilow Excellence In Research Award from the College of Engineering, New Mexico State University.

While teaching she also became involved in a wide array of diversity and inclusion programs focused on people with disabilities. One of her early lessons came from attending a diversity workshop in a hotel in Florida.

The hotel itself was not accessible which she discovered her first morning there. She ended up falling and had to be moved to a hotel down the road. This renewed her resolve to become even more involved to make sure that accessibility was part of diversity and inclusion in computing. She participated in the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) as an external subcommittee member and was active in the Development of the CISE Strategic Plan for Broadening Participation. She was a leader in BPC programs focused on getting people with disabilities introduced to computer science at an early age. She developed and delivered workshops all over Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado—anywhere there were populations of disabled people. These workshops provided information on how to fund college, navigate campuses and pursue their academic careers. She has also been involved in capacity building work with AccessComputing and delivered talks at CAHSI (Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions). Additionally, Cook is a member of the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Informational Technology (CMD-IT) board.

After teaching for 11 years, Cook reached a turning point. She was feeling burnt out from the load of both teaching, raising money for projects and the research. A colleague from Sandia National Laboratory called to ask her to take on an additional project. She simply proposed, “Why don’t you just hire me?” Joining Sandia National Laboratory was a better solution for her physically and allowed her to enjoy her passion for horses and riding.

“My accident gave me a greater appreciation for life at an early age. I learned a lot about myself and other people,” Cook said. “Life is a daily struggle and nothing is easy except rolling downhill. The people in my life that embraced me, stood by and encouraged me when they didn’t have to gave me the ability to make the decision to not let the accident ruin my life or stop me from enjoying life.”

Seven Steps to Building a Disability-Inclusive Workplace

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A wheel listing the seven accessibility points mentioned throughout the article

By the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)

October marks the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). While the past 75 years have seen groundbreaking developments, including the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, when it comes to disability inclusion in the workplace, there’s still work to be done.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) reports that, in June 2020, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 16.5 percent, compared to 11 percent for people without disabilities.

Many employers want to establish diverse workforces that include people with disabilities but don’t know how to do so. The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) can help. EARN is a free resource funded by ODEP that provides information and tools to help employers recruit, hire, advance, and retain people with disabilities. EARN’s Inclusion@Work Framework, which was developed in collaboration with employers with exemplary practices in disability employment, outlines core components of a disability-inclusive workplace, along with a menu of strategies for achieving them. From disability-inclusive recruitment practices to effective communication, here are seven ways companies can foster disability inclusion at work:

Lead the Way

The foundation for a disability-inclusive work environment is an inclusive business culture. This begins by gaining buy-in from executive leadership. Examples of best practices for fostering an inclusive culture include:

  • Making equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities an integral part of the company’s strategic mission.
  • Establishing a team that includes executives with disabilities to support the recruiting, hiring, retention, and advancement of individuals with disabilities.
  • Conducting employee engagement surveys to gather input on whether the workplace environment is accessible and inclusive.

Build the Pipeline

Proactive outreach and recruitment of people with disabilities is the foundation of a successful workplace disability inclusion program. To build a pipeline of applicants, employers should work to develop relationships with a variety of recruitment sources. Best practices for disability-inclusive outreach and recruitment practices include partnering with local and state service providers (such as vocational rehabilitation agencies), participating in employer networking groups, attending career fairs for people with disabilities, and providing inclusive mentoring and internship opportunities.

Hire (& Keep) the Best

Building a disability-inclusive organization means not only attracting and recruiting qualified individuals with disabilities but also ensuring policies and processes across the employment lifecycle support the hiring, retention, and advancement of employees with disabilities. Companies should have effective policies and processes in place for job announcements, qualification standards, hiring, workplace accommodations, career development and advancement, and retention and promotion.

 Ensure Productivity

All employees need the right tools and work environment to effectively perform their jobs. Employees with disabilities may need workplace adjustments—or accommodations—to maximize their productivity. Examples of workplace accommodations include automatic doors, sign language interpreters, and flexible work schedules or telework. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), more than half of all workplace accommodations cost nothing to provide. Furthermore, JAN research has found that most employers report financial benefits from providing accommodations, including reduced insurance and training costs and increased productivity.

Communicate

Attracting qualified individuals with disabilities requires clear communication, both externally and internally, about your company’s commitment to disability inclusion. This can include internal campaigns, disability-inclusive marketing, and participation in disability-related job fairs and awareness events. Best practices for communication of company policies and procedures can include:

  • Incorporating disability imagery into advertising and marketing materials.
  • Informing local disability organizations about company sponsored career days.
  • Distributing information about relevant disability policies and priorities to subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers.

Be Tech Savvy

As technology continues to shift, so does the concept of accessibility. Being able to get through the physical door is no longer enough to ensure people with disabilities can apply and interview for jobs; a company’s “virtual doors” must be open as well. Furthermore, once on the job, employees with disabilities—like all employees—must be able to access the information and communication technology (ICT) they need to maximize their productivity. Examples of best practices for ensuring accessible ICT include using accessible online recruiting platforms, adopting a formal ICT policy, appointing a chief accessibility officer, and establishing clear procurement policies related to accessibility.

Measure Success

While policies and procedures are necessary to enhance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, the ultimate objective should be to ensure effective implementation. Companies can take steps to ensure disability becomes part of their overall diversity goals and can encourage self-identification of disability by their employees to benchmark the impact of disability inclusion efforts. Examples of best practices for accountability and self-identification include providing training on disability-related issues, establishing accountability measures and processes for self-identification, and incorporating disability inclusion goals in appropriate personnel’s performance plans.

 

Visit AskEARN.org to learn more about creating a disability-inclusive workplace.

‘Run’ Hopes to Change the Conversation on Actors with Disabilities

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Gaslighting and the fear that the person we’re closest to is lying always have been popular motifs in the horror and thriller genres — most famously depicted in 1941’s “Suspicion” and 1944’s “Gaslight.”

Features like 1962’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” utilized disability to create an added air of helplessness to Joan Crawford’s character; it’s expanded out to the Munchausen narrative portrayed most recently in the 2019 series “The Act.” With the addition of disability, these tropes take on added poignance.

Carrie Sandhal, Associate Professor in the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explains the fear of being gaslit and disbelieved is a real concern outside of celluloid walls. From recent run-ins with the police involving the mentally ill or deaf to the historical associations of the insane asylum, able-bodied people watch horror as a means of distancing themselves, believing it can’t happen to them. Sandahl references a 2003 article written by disabled writer Harriet McBryde Johnson, “The Disability Gulag,” wherein Johnson writes about visiting friends of her in a nursing home. “[She] was mistaken for one of the residents,” Sandhal said. “There’s this feeling that we can always become trapped.”

Hulu’s upcoming feature, “Run,” treads this territory in its story of the teenage Chloe (Kiera Allen), whose relationship with her mother Diane (Sarah Paulson) becomes one of survival and uncovering buried secrets. It shows how the horror genre is one  of the few refuges for tales about disabled women — if not in giving them great stories, at least by putting them on-screen.

Director Aneesh Chaganty and Allen see “Run” as a thriller as opposed to a horror film, but the two genres go hand-in-hand from a disabled perspective, with Allen even telling IndieWire that if this was a horror feature Chloe would be a fantastic “final girl.” And even within the thriller vein, like “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane,” the thrills are often left to the able-bodied audience, leaving the disabled audience to draw on real-life experiences to manifest an added layer of fear.

One of the posters for “Run,” inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, plays on the fear of inaccessibility, with Paulson’s character looking down from the top of a staircase at her daughter. It’s an image that gives Allen chills because as a wheelchair user herself, she has felt that terror. “When people consider things like accessibility, and other obstacles that are unnecessarily put before disabled people, I don’t think they [able-bodied people] see it as terrifying,” she said. “I’ve been trapped in a building because of inaccessibility. I’ve been picked up by strangers, in my chair, without my permission, because of inaccessibility [and] I’ve never seen a movie that portrays that fear.”

Because that terror is so specific, it was important for Chaganty to draw on Allen’s own experiences for the movie as well as examine his own privilege as an able-bodied person. “I spent a lot of time talking to a disability studies professor at Brown and she educated me on this concept of ableism [discrimination in favor of able-bodied people],” Chaganty told IndieWire. He said nearly every element of the script had Allen giving advice and input, even having her write down her thoughts, from a character perspective, in a series of journals. After these discussions changes were made — especially with regards to Chloe’s room, which Chaganty admitted was made purely from an able-bodied perspective and not necessarily from the mind of a teenage girl in a wheelchair.

The history of actual actresses with disabilities in this genre is rare. So rare, in fact, that Hulu’s advertising of “Run” emphasizes it’s been over 70 years since a disabled actress led a thriller for an American studio, that being actress Susan Peters in 1948’s “The Sign of the Ram.” It’s a statistic Chaganty is used to hearing in some form. When he debuted his feature “Searching,” starring John Cho, in 2018 he learned at a film festival that it was the first mainstream Hollywood feature to star an Asian American.

“We [he and co-screenwriter Sev Ohanian] realized that everything we make, there’s no reason for it not to have a win associated with it,” he said. “The idea that we can cast somebody….in any project that we make [who] traditionally doesn’t get a hero role or main character was something very important to us. Or at least to me, growing up, and not seeing an Indian-American or a South Asian person.” And while Chaganty says home studio Lionsgate was incredibly supportive of hiring the best actor for the role, regardless of ability, the director said there were several Disney stars who auditioned for the role of Chloe.

Ultimately, hiring an able-bodied name or anyone who wasn’t disabled was anathema to him and it compelled him to realize what a broad word “disabled” is in the acting community. It wasn’t until he started watching audition tapes that he realized how limited his own purview was with regards to a wheelchair user.

Continue on to IndieWire to read the full article

 

Celebrating the ADA: NEW EPISODE of A World of Difference featuring Sen. Tom Harkin

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“A World of Difference,” is a show that celebrates and supports the families of children with learning and developmental disabilities such as ADHD, dyslexia and autism.

This new episode celebrates the 30th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and features retired Senator Tom Harkin, who was responsible for authoring and sponsoring the act.

The episode also features an interview with Haley Moss, Florida’s first openly autistic attorney. Click here to view the episode.

Produced by Beacon College, America’s first accredited college dedicated to educating neurodiverse students, “A World of Difference” fills a gap in TV programming by exploring a wide range of neurodiversity issues.

In honor of October being “National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” the next episode of “A World of Difference” will feature Bank of America’s assistant vice president of accessibility, Jhillika Kumar and Carolyn Jeppsen, founder of BroadFutures, a national organization that helps learning disabled job candidates.

The episode will be available for viewing on Beacon College’s Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube channels – and for listening through A World of Difference: The Podcast later this month.

How A Trainer Moved Special Olympics Online To Engage Athletes

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By Luke Ranker, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

When the coronavirus pandemic hit North Texas, Fort Worth-area Special Olympics organizers were left wondering how athletes would cope with stay-at-home orders and the loss of their sporting communities.

Typically the spring and summer months are filled with Special Olympics events. The competitions thrive on close personal interactions that provide a social network for the athletes, their families and the volunteers. With the virus limiting gatherings, like all sports, Special Olympics had to get creative.

Enter Everett King.

“He was at the forefront of saying, ‘We need to do something for our athletes,’” said Dalton Hill, an associate executive director at Special Olympics Texas.

King had been a special education teacher in the Northwest school district when he started volunteering as Special Olympics coach in 2014. He quickly gained a reputation as being one of the most engaging and positive volunteers even before he became the full-time program director for the Fort Worth chapter last year, Hill said.

Hill said King “has a heart to serve” and stepped up immediately to brainstorm ways to engage athletes during the shutdown.

“The athletes want to be in an environment where they can just be themselves and have fun and interact with other people,” King said. “So once this pandemic started, it really was kind of hard on not just on the athletes, but on everyone — their coaches, families because this is something that a lot of us look forward to.”

Paxton Alexander is one the athletes who has grown attached to Everett’s coaching and camaraderie.

He had long been outgoing and considered everyone his friend, his mom Malisa Alexander said, but he rarely asked to go places with friends or meet up with other people. That changed when King asked Paxton, who has autism and is now 21, to join special Olympics during his sophomore year of high school.

Wrestling piqued his interest but he eventually moved on to football, becoming the quarterback. He quickly become obsessed with the game, his mom said.

“It kind of built this confidence in him that he could do more than he thought he could,” Malisa Alexander said.

Continue on to DisabilityScoop to read the full article.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

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Robert Half